A Walk from London to John O'Groat's
by Elihu Burritt
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The next day I bent my course in a north-westerly direction, and passed through a very fertile and beautiful section. The scenery was truly delightful;—not grand nor splendid, but replete with quiet pictures that please the eye and touch the heart with a sense of gladness. The soft mosaic work of the gently rounded hills, or figures wrought in wheat, barley, oats, beans, turnips, and meadow and pasture land, and grouped into landscapes in endless alternation of lights and shades, and all this happy little world now veiled by the low, summer clouds, now flooded by a sunburst between them—all these lovely and changing sceneries made my walk like one through a continuous gallery of paintings.

Harvesting had commenced in real earnest, and the wheat-fields were full of reapers, some wielding the sickle, others the scythe. When I saw men and women bending almost double to cut their sheaves close to the ground, I longed to walk through a barley-field with one of our American cradles, and show them how we do that sort of thing. As yet I have seen no reaping machines in operation, and I doubt if they will ever come into such extensive use here as with us, owing to the abundance of cheap labor in this country. I saw on this day's walk the heaviest crop of wheat that I have noticed since I left London. It must have averaged sixty bushels to the acre for the whole field.

Late in the afternoon it began to rain; and I was glad to find shelter and entertainment at a comfortable village inn, under the patronage of "The Green Man," perhaps a brother or near relative of Mermadam my hostess that entertained me the preceding night. It was a unique old building, or rather a concrete of a great variety of buildings devoted to a remarkable diversity of purposes, including brewing, farming, and other occupations. The large, low, dark kitchen was flanked by one of the old-fashioned fire-places, with space for a large family between the jambs, and the hollow of the chimney ample enough to show one of the smaller constellations at the top of it in a clear night. A seat on the brick or stone floor before one of these kitchen fire-places is to me the focus of the home comforts of the house, and I always make for it mechanically. As the darkness drew on, several agricultural laborers drifted in, one after the other, until the broad, deep pavement of the hearth was lined by a row of them, quite fresh from their work. They were quiet, sober-looking men, and they spoke with subdued voices, without animation or excitement, as if the fatigue of the day and the general battle of life had softened them to a serious, pensive mood and movement. As they sat drying their jackets around the fire, passing successive mugs of the landlord's ale from one to the other, they grew more and more conversational; and, as I put in a question here and there, they gave me an insight into the general condition, aspects and prospects of their class which I had not obtained before. They were quite free to answer any questions relating to their domestic economy, their earnings, spendings, food, drink, clothing, housing and fuel, also in reference to their educational and religious privileges and habits.

It was now the first week of harvest; and harvest in England, in any one locality, covers the space of a full month, in ordinary weather. Then, as the season varies remarkably, so that one county is frequently a week earlier in harvesting than that adjoining it on the north, the work for the sickle is often prolonged from the middle of July to the middle of September. This is the period of great expectation as well as toil for the agricultural laborers. Every man, woman, and boy of them is all put under the stimulus of extra earnings through these important weeks. Even the laborers hired by the year have a full month given them for harvesting forty or fifty extra shillings under this stimulus. Nearly all the grain in England is cut for a certain stipulated sum per acre; and thousands of all ages, with sickle or scythe in hand, see the sun rise and set while they are at work in the field. In the field they generally breakfast, lunch, and dine; and when it is considered there is daylight enough for labor between half-past three in the morning to half-past eight at night, one may easily see how many of the twenty-four hours they may bend to their toil. The price for cutting and binding wheat is from 10s. to 14s., or from $2 40c. to $3 36c. per acre, and 8s., or $1 92c. per acre for oats and barley. The men who cut, bind, and shock by the acre generally have to find their own beer, and will earn from 24s. to 28s., or from $5 76c. to $6 72c. per week. The regular laborers frequently let themselves to their employers during the harvest month at from 20s. to 24s. per week, which is just about double their usual wages. In addition to this pay, they are often allowed two quarts of ale and two quarts of small beer per day; not the small beer of New England, made only of hops, ginger, and molasses; but a far more stimulating drink, quite equal to our German lager. This gallon of beer will cost the farmer about 10d., or 20c. Where the piece-work laborer furnishes his own malt liquor, it must cost him on an average about an English shilling, or twenty-four cents, a day.

Two or three of the men who formed the circle around the fire at The Green Man, had come to purchase, or pay for, a keg of beer for their harvest allowance. It was to me a matter of half-painful interest to see what vital importance they attached to a supply of this stimulant—to see how much more they leaned upon its strength and comfort than upon food. It was not in my heart to argue the question with them, or to seek to dispel the hereditary and pleasant illusion, that beer alone, of all human drinks, could carry them through the long, hot hours of toil in harvest. Besides, I wished to get at their own free thoughts on the subject without putting my own in opposition to them, which might have slightly restricted their full expression. Every one of them held to the belief, as put beyond all doubt or question by the experience of the present and all past generations, that wheat, barley and oats could not be reaped and ricked without beer, and beer at the rate of a gallon a day per head. Each had his string of proofs to this conviction terminating in a pewter mug, just as some poor people praying to the Virgin have a string of beads ending in a crucifix, which they tell off with honest hearts and sober faces. Each could make it stand to reason that a man could not bear the heat and burden of harvest labor without beer. Each had his illustration in the case of some poor fellow who had tried the experiment, out of principle or economy, and had failed under it. It was of no use to talk of temperance and all that. It was all very nice for well-to-do people, who never blistered their hands at a sickle or a scythe, to tell poor, laboring men, sweating at their hot and heavy work from sun to sun, that they must not drink anything but milk and water or cold tea and coffee, but put them in the wheat-field a few days, and let them try their wishy-washy drinks and see what would become of them. As I have said, I did not undertake to argue the men out of this belief, partly because I wished to learn from them all they thought and felt on the subject, and partly, I must confess, because I was reluctant to lay a hard hand upon a source of comfort which, to them, holds a large portion of their earthly enjoyments, especially when I could not replace it with a substitute which they would accept, and which would yield them an equal amount of satisfaction.

A personal habit becomes a "second nature" to the individual, even if he stands alone in its indulgence. But when it is an almost universal habit, coming down from generation to generation, throwing its creepers and clingers around the social customs and industrial economies of a great nation, it is almost like re-creating a world to change that second nature thus strengthened. This change is slowly working its way in Great Britain—slowly, but perceptibly here and there—thanks to the faithful and persevering efforts put forth by good and true men, to enlighten the subjects of this impoverishing and demoralising custom, which has ruled with such despotism over the laborers of the land. Little by little the proper balance between the Four Great Powers of human necessity,— Food, Drink, Raiment and Housing, so long disturbed by this habit, is being restored. Still, the preponderance of Drink, especially among the agricultural laborers in England, is very striking and sad. As a whole, Beer must still stand before Bread—even before Meat, and before both in many cases, in their expenditures. The man who sat next me, in muddy leggings, and smoking coat, was mildly spoken, quiet, and seemingly thoughtful. He had come for his harvest allowance of 20s. worth of beer. If he abstained from its use on Sundays, he would have a ration of about tenpence's worth daily. That would buy him a large loaf of bread, two good cuts of mutton or beef, and all the potatoes and other vegetables he could eat in a day. But he puts it all into the Jug instead of the Basket. Jug is the juggernaut that crushes his hard earnings in the dust, or, without the figure, distils them into drink. Jug swallows up the first fruits of his industry, and leaves Basket to glean among the sharpest thorns of his poverty. Jug is capricious as well as capacious. It clamors for quality as well as quantity; it is greedy of foaming and beaded liquors. Basket does well if it can bring to the reaper the food of well-kept dogs. In visiting different farms, I have noticed men and women at their luncheons and dinners in the field. A hot mutton chop, or a cut of roast-beef, and a hot potato, seem to be a luxury they never think of in the hardest toil of harvest. Both the meals I have mentioned consist, so far as I have seen, of only two articles of food,—bread and bacon, or bread and cheese. And this bacon is never warm, but laid upon a slice of bread in a thin, cold layer, instead of butter, both being cut down through with a jack-knife into morsels when eaten.

Such is a habit that devours a lion's share of the English laborer's earnings, and leaves Food, Raiment, and Housing to shift for themselves. If he works by the piece and finds his own beer, it costs him more than he pays for house rent, or for bread, or meat, or for clothes for himself and family. If his employer furnishes it or pays him commutation money, it amounts for all his men to a tax of half-a-crown to the acre for his whole farm. There is no earthly reason why agricultural laborers in this country should spend more in drink than those of New England. I am confident that if a census were taken of all the "hired men" of our six states, and a fair average struck, the daily expenditure for drinks would not exceed twopence, or four cents per head, while their average wages would amount to 4s., or 96 cents, per day through the year. Yet our Summers are far hotter and dryer than in England, our labor equally hard, and there is really more natural occasion for drinks in our harvest fields than here. It would require a severe apprenticeship for our men to acquire a taste for sharp ale or strong beer as a beverage under our July sun. A pail or jug of sweetened water, perhaps with a few drops of cider to the pint, to sour it slightly, and a spoonful of ginger stirred in, is our substitute for malt liquor. Sometimes beer made of nothing but hops, water, and a little molasses, is brought into the field, and makes even an exhilarating drink, without any alcoholic effect. Cold coffee, diluted with water, and re-sweetened, is a healthful and grateful luxury to our farm laborers.

It would be a blessed thing for all the outdoor and indoor laborers in this country, if the broad chasm between the strong beer of Old England and the small beer of New England could be bridged, and they be carried across to the shore of a better habit. The farm hands here need a good deal of gentle leading and suggestion in this matter. If some humane and ingenious man would get up a new, cheap, cold drink, which should be nutritious, palatable and exhilarating, without any inebriating property, it would be a boon of immeasurable value. Malt liquors are made in such rivers here, or rather in such lakes with river outlets; there is such a system for their distribution and circulation through every town, village, and hamlet; and they are so temptingly and conveniently kegged, bottled, and jugged, and so handy to be carried out into the field, that the habit of drinking them is almost forced upon the poor man's lips. If a cheaper drink, refreshing and strengthening, could be made equally convenient and attractive, it would greatly help to break this hereditary thraldom to the Beer-Barrel. Another powerful auxiliary to this good work might be contributed in the form of a simple contrivance, which any man of mechanical genius and a kind heart might elaborate. In this go-ahead age, scores of things are made portable that once were fast-anchored solidities. We have portable houses, portable beds, portable stoves and cooking ranges, as well as portable steam-engines. Now, if some benevolent and ingenious man would get up a little portable affair, at the cost of two or three shillings, especially for agricultural laborers in this country, which they could carry with one hand into the field, and by which they could make and keep hot a pot of coffee, cocoa, chocolate, broth or porridge, and also bake a piece of meat and a few potatoes, it would be a real benefaction to thousands, and help them up to the high road of a better condition.

What is the best condition to which the agricultural laborers in Great Britain may ever expect to attain, or to which they may be raised by that benevolent effort now put forth for their elevation? They may all be taught to read and write and do a little in the first three rules of arithmetic. That will raise them to a new status and condition. Education of the masses has become such a vigorous idea with the Government and people of England; so much is doing to make the children of the manufacturing districts pass through the school-room into the factory, carrying with them the ability and taste for reading; ragged schools, working-men's clubs, and institutions for all kinds of cheap learning and gratuitous teaching are multiplying so rapidly; the press is turning out such a world of literature for the homes of the poor, and the English Post, like a beneficent Providence, is distilling such a morning dew of manuscript and printed thoughts over the whole length and breadth of the country, and all these streams of elevating influence are now so tending towards the agricultural laborers, that there is good reason to believe the next generation of them will stand head and shoulders above any preceding one in the stature of intelligence and self- respect. This in itself will give them a new status in society, as beneficial to their employers as to themselves. It will increase their mutual respect, and create a better footing for their relationships.

But the first improvement demanded in their condition, and the most pressingly urgent, is a more comfortable, decent and healthy housing. Until this is effected, all other efforts to raise them mentally and morally must fail of their expected result. The London Times, and other metropolitan, and many local, journals publish almost daily distressing accounts of the miserable tenements occupied by the men and women whose labor makes England the garden of fertility and beauty that it is. Editors are making the subject the theme of able and stirring articles, and some of the most eloquent members of Parliament are speaking of it with great power. It is not only generous but just to take the language in which the writers and orators of a country denounce the evils existing in it cum grano salis, or with considerable allowance for exaggeration. Their statements and denunciations should not be used against their country as a reproach by the people of another, because they prove an earnest desire and effort to reform abuses which grew up in an unenlightened past. As a specimen of the language which is sometimes held on this subject, I subjoin the following paragraph from the Saturday Review, perhaps the most cynical or unsentimental journal in England:—

"There is a wailing for the dirt and vice and misery which must prevail in houses where seven or eight persons, of both sexes and all ages, are penned up together for the night in the one rickety, foul, vermin-hunted bed-room. The picture of agricultural life unrolls itself before us as it is painted by those who know it best. We see the dull, clouded mind, the bovine gaze, the brutality and recklessness, and the simple audacity, and the confessed hatred of his betters, which mark the English peasant, unless some happy fortune has saved him from the general lot, and persuaded him that life has something besides beer that the poor man may have and may relish."

Now this is a sad picture truly. The pen is sharp and cuts like a knife,—but it is the surgeon's knife, not the poisoned barb of a foreigner's taunt. This is the hopeful and promising aspect of these delineations and denunciations of the laboring man's condition. That low, damp, ill-ventilated, contracted room in which he pens his family at night, was, quite likely, constructed in the days of Good Queen Bess, or when "George the Third was King," at the latest. And houses were built for good, substantial farmers in those days which they would hardly house their horses in now. There are hundreds of mechanics and day-laborers in Edinburgh who pen their families nightly in apartments once owned and occupied by Scotch dukes and earls, but which a journeyman shoemaker of New England would be loth to live in rent free. Even the favorite room of Queen Mary, in Holyrood Palace, in which she was wont to tea and talk with Rizzio, would be too small and dim for the shop-parlor of a small London tradesman of the present day. Thus, after all, the low-jointed, low-floored, small-windowed, ill-ventilated cottages now occupied by the agricultural laborers of England were proportionately as good as the houses built at the same period for the farmers of the country, many of which are occupied by farmers now, and the like of which never could be erected again on this island. Indeed, one wonders at finding so many of these old farm houses still inhabited by well-to-do people, who could well afford to live in better buildings.

This, then, is a hopeful sign, and both pledge and proof of progress—that the very cottages of laboring men in England that once figured so poetically in the histories and pictures of rural life, are now being turned inside out to the scrutiny of a more enlightened and benevolent age, revealing conditions that stir up the whole community to painful sensibility and to vigorous efforts to improve them. These cottages were just as low, damp, small and dirty thirty years ago as they are now, and the families "penned" in them at night were doubtless as large, and perhaps more ignorant than those which inhabit them at the present time. It is not the real difference between the actual conditions of the two periods but the difference in the dispositions and perceptions of the public mind, that has produced these humane sensibilities and efforts for the elevation of the ploughers, sowers, reapers and mowers who enrich and beautify this favored land with their patient and poorly- paid labor. And there is no doubt that these newly-awakened sentiments and benevolent activities will carry the day; replacing the present tenements of the agricultural laborers with comfortable, well-built cottages, fitted for the homes of intelligent and virtuous families. This work has commenced in different sections under favorable auspices. Buildings have been erected on an estate here and there which will be likely to serve as models for whole hamlets of new tenements. From what I have heard, I should think that Lord Overstone, of the great banking house of the Lloyds, has produced the best models for cottage homes, on his estates in Northamptonshire. Although built after the most modern and improved plan, and capacious enough to accommodate a considerable family very comfortably, almost elegantly, the yearly rent is only 3 pounds, or less than fifteen dollars!

Now with a three-pound cottage, having a parlor, kitchen, bed-room and buttery on the lower floor, and an equal number of apartments on the upper; with a forty-rod garden to grow his vegetables, and with a free school for his children at easy walking distance, the agricultural laborer in England will be placed as far forward on the road of improvement as the Government or people, or both, can set him. The rest of the way upward and onward he must make by his own industry, virtue and economy. From this point he must work out his own progress and elevation. No Government, nor any benevolent association, nor general nor private benevolence, can regulate the rate of his wages. The labor market will determine that, just as the Corn Exchange does the price of wheat. But there is one thing he can do to raise himself in civil stature, moral growth, and domestic comfort. He may empty the Jug into the Basket. He and his family may consume in solids what they now do in frothy fluids. They may exchange their scanty dinner of cold bacon and bread for one of roast beef and plum pudding, by substituting cold coffee, cocoa or pure water for strong beer. Or, if they are content to go on with their old fare of food, they may save the money they expended in ale for the rent of one or two acres of land, for a cow, or for two or three pigs, or deposit it weekly in the Post-Office Savings' Bank, until it shall amount to a sum sufficient to enable them to set up a little independent business of their own.

Here, then, are three great steps indispensable for the elevation of the agricultural laborers of Great Britain to the highest level in society which they can reach and maintain. Two of these the Government, or the land-owners, or both, must take. They are Improved Dwellings and Free and Accessible Education. These the laborer cannot provide for himself and family. It is utterly beyond his ability to do it. The third, last, long step must depend entirely upon himself; though he may be helped on by sympathy, suggestion, and encouragement from those who know how hard a thing it is for the fixed appetites to break through the meshes of habit. He must make drink the cheapest of human necessities. He must exchange Beer for Bread, for clothes, for books, or for things that give permanent comfort and enjoyment. When these three steps are accomplished, the British laborer will stand before his country in the best position it can give him. And I believe it will be a position which will make him contented and happy, and be satisfactory to all classes of the people.

After all that can be done for them, the wages of the agricultural laborers of Great Britain cannot be expected to exceed, on an average, twelve shillings a week, or about half the price of the same labor in America. Their rent and clothes cost them, perhaps, less than half the sum paid by our farm hands for the same items of expenditure. Their food must also cost only about half of what our men pay, who would think they were poor indeed if they could not have hot meat breakfasts, roast or boiled beef dinners and cold meat suppers, with the usual sprinkling of puddings, pies, and cakes, and tea sweetened with loaf sugar. Thus, after all, put the English laborer in the position suggested; give him such a three-pound cottage and garden as Lord Overstone provides; give his children free and convenient schooling; then let him exchange his ale for nutritious and almost costless drinks, and if he is still able to live for a few years on his old food-fare, he may work his way up to a very comfortable condition with his twelve shillings a week, besides his beer-money. On these conditions he would be able almost to run neck and neck with our hired men in the matter of saving money "for a rainy day," or for raising himself to a higher position.

We will put them side by side, after the suggested improvements have been realised; assuming each has a wife, with two children too young to earn anything at field work.

American Laborer at 24s per week English Laborer, at 12s per week

Weekly Expense $ c. s. d Weekly Expense s. d. $ c for:— for:— ———————————————- —————————————— Food 3 50 = 14 7 Food 7 3 = 1 75 Rent and Taxes 0 67 = 2 9 Rent 1 2 = O 28 Fuel, average of the year O 48 = 2 O For Fuel 1 O = O 24 For Clothes 1 0 = 4 2 For Clothes 2 1 = 0 50

Total Weekly Total Weekly Expenses ——————— Expenses —————- — 5 65 = 23 6 11 6 = 2 77 ——————— —————- —

I think the American reader, who is personally acquainted with the habits and domestic economy of our farm laborers, will regard this estimate of their expenditures as quite moderate. I have assumed, in both cases, that no time is lost in the week on account of sickness, or of weather, or lack of employment; and all the incidental expenses I have included in the four general items given. It must also be conceded that our farm hands do not average more than twenty-four English shillings, or $5 75c., per week, through all the seasons of the year. The amount of expenditure allowed in the foregoing estimate enables them to support themselves and their families comfortably, if they are temperate and industrious; to clothe and educate their children; to make bright and pleasant homes, with well-spread tables, and to have respectable seats in church on the Sabbath. On the other hand, we have assigned to the English agricultural laborer what he would regard a proportionately comfortable allowance for the wants of a week. We may not have divided it correctly, but the total of the items is as great as he would expect to expend on the current necessities of seven days. I doubt if one in a thousand of the farm laborers of Great Britain lays out more than the sum we have allotted for one week's food, rent, and fuel and clothes. We then reach this result of the balance-sheet of the two men. Their weekly savings hardly differ by a penny; each amounting to about 5d., or 10 cents. At first sight, it might seem, from this result, that the English farm laborer earns half as much, lives half as well, and saves as much as the American. But he has a resource for increasing his weekly savings which his American competitor would work his fingers to the bone before he would employ. His wife is able and willing to go with him into the field and earn from three to five shillings a week. Then, if he commutes with his employer, he will receive from him 4d. daily, or 2s. a week, for beer-money. Thus, if he and his wife are willing to live, as such families do now, on bread, bacon and cheese, and such vegetables as they can grow in their garden, they may lay up, from their joint earnings, a dollar, or four shillings a week, provided a sufficiently stimulating object be set before them. To me it is surprising that they sustain so much human life on such small means. They are often reproached for their want of wise economy; but never was more keen ingenuity, more close balancing of pennies against provisions than a great many of them practice and teach. Let the most astute or utilitarian of social economists try the experiment of housing, feeding and clothing himself, wife and six children too young to earn anything, on ten or twelve shillings a week; and he will learn something that his philosophy never dreamed of.

Even while bending under the weight of the beer-barrel, thousands of agricultural laborers in England have accomplished wonders by their indefatigable industry, integrity and economy. Put a future before them with a sun in it—some object they may reach that is worth a life's effort, and as large a proportion of them will work for it as you will find in any other country. A servant girl told me recently that her father was a Devonshire laborer, who worked the best years of his life for seven shillings a week, and her mother for three, when they had half a dozen children to feed and clothe. Yet, by that unflagging industry and ingenious economy with which thousands wrestle with the necessities of such a life and throw them, too, they put saving to saving, until they were able to rent an acre of orcharding, a large garden for vegetables, then buy a donkey and cart, then a pony and cart, and load and drive them both to market with their own and their neighbors' produce, starting from home at two in the morning. In a few years they were able to open a little grocery and provision shop, and are now taking their rank among the tradespeople of the village. But if the farm servants of England could only be induced to give up beer and lay by the money paid them as a substitute, it alone would raise them to a new condition of comfort, even independence. At 4d. a day commutation money, they would have each 5 pounds at the end of the year. That would pay the rent of two acres of land here; or it would buy five on the Illinois Central Railroad. Three years' beer-money would pay for those rich prairie acres, his fare by sea and land to them, and leave him 3 pounds in his pocket to begin their cultivation with. Three years of this saving would make almost a new man of him at home, in the way of self-respect, comfort and progress. It would be a "nest- egg," to which hope, habit and a strengthening ambition would add others of larger size and value from year to year.

Give, then, the British agricultural laborer good, healthy Housing, Free Schooling, and let him empty the Jug into the Basket, and he may work his way up to a very comfortable condition at home. But if he should prefer to go to Australia or America, where land is cheap and labor dear, in a few years he may save enough to take him to either continent, with sufficient left in his pocket to begin life in a new world.



Having now pursued a westerly direction until I was in the range of a continuous upland section of country, I took a northward course and walked on to Oundle, a goodly town in Northamptonshire, as unique as its name. On the way, in crossing over to another turnpike road, I passed through a large tract of land in a very deshabille condition, rough, boggy and bushy. I soon found it was a game-growing estate, and very productive of all sorts of birds and small quadrupeds. The fields I crossed showed a promising crop of hares and rabbits; and doubtless there were more partridges on that square mile than in the whole State of Connecticut. This is a characteristic of the country which will strike an American, at his first visit, with wonder. He will see hares and rabbits bobbing about on common farms, and partridges in broods, like separate flocks of hens and chickens, in fields of grain, within a stone's throw of the farmer's house. I doubt if any county in New England produces so many in a year as the holding of Mr. Samuel Jonas already described. Rabbits have been put out of the pale of protection somewhat recently, I believe, and branded with the bad name of vermin; so that the tenant farmer may kill them on his occupation without leave or license from the landlord. It may indicate their number to state the fact, that one hundred and twenty-five head of them were killed in one day's shooting on Mr. Jonas's estate by his sons and some of their friends.

It was market day in Oundle, and I had the pleasure of sitting down to dinner with a large company of farmers and cattle and corn- dealers. They were intelligent, substantial-looking men, with no occupational peculiarity of dress or language to distinguish them from ordinary middle-class gentlemen engaged in trade or manufacture. Indeed, the old-fashioned English farmer, of the great, round, purply-red face, aldermanic stature, and costume of fifty years ago, speaking the dialect of his county with such inimitable accent, is fast going out. I have not seen one during my present sojourn in England. I fear he has disappeared altogether with the old stage-coach, and that we have not pictures enough of him left to give the rising generation any correct notion of what he was, and how he looked. It may be a proper and utilitarian change, but one can hardly notice without regret what transformations the railway regime has wrought in customs and habits which once individualised a country and people. A kind of French centralisation in the world of fashion has been established, which has over-ridden and obliterated all the dress boundaries of civilised nations. All the upper and middle classes of Christendom centre themselves to one focus of taste and merge into one plastic commonwealth, to be shaped and moulded virtually by a common tailor. Their coats, vests, pantaloons, boots and shoes are made substantially after the same pattern. For a while, hats stood out with some show of pluck and patriotism, and made a stand for national individuality, but it was in vain. They, too, succumbed to the inexorable law of Uniformity. That law was liberal in one respect. It did not insist that the stove-pipe form should rule inflexibly. It admitted several variations, including wide-awakes, pliable felts, and that little, squat, lackadaisical, round-crown, narrow-brimmed thing worn by the Prince of Wales in the photographs taken of him and the Princess at Sandringham. But this has come to be the rule: that hats shall no longer represent distinct nationalities; that they shall be interchangeable in all civilised communities; in a word, that neither Englishman, American, French nor German shall be known by his hat, whatever be the form or material of its body or brim. If there were a southern county in England where the mercury stood at 100 degrees in the shade for two or three summer months, the upper classes in it would don, without any hesitation, the wide, flappy broadbrims of California, and still be in the fashion,—that is, variety in uniformity. The peasantry, or the lowest laboring classes of European countries, are now, and will remain perhaps for a century to come, the only conservators of the distinctive national costumes of bygone generations.

During the conversation at the table, a farmer exhibited a head of the Hallett wheat, which he had grown on his land. I never saw anything to equal it, in any country in which I have travelled. It was nearly six inches in length, and seeded large and plump from top to bottom. This is a variety produced by Mr. Hallett, of Brighton, and is creating no little interest among English grain-growers. Lord Burghley, who had tested its properties, thus describes it, in a speech before the Northamptonshire Agricultural Society last summer:—

"At the Battersea Show last year, my attention was called to some enormous ears of wheat, which I thought could not have been grown in England. For, although the British farmer can grow corn with anyone, I had never seen such wheat here, and thought it must be foreign wheat. I went to the person who was threshing some out, and having been informed that it was sown only with one seed in a hole, I procured some of Mr. Hallett, of Brighton; and, being anxious to try the system, I planted it according to Mr. Hallett's directions— one grain in a hole, the holes nine and a half inches apart, with six inches between the rows. To satisfy myself on the subject, I also planted some according to Stephen's instructions, who said three grains in a hole would produce the most profitable return. I also planted some two grains in a hole. I sowed the grain at the end of last September, on bad land, over an old quarry, and except some stiff clay at the bottom of it, there was nothing in it good for wheat. The other day I counted the stalks of all three. On Mr. Stephen's plan of three grains in a hole, there were eighteen stalks; with two grains in a hole, there was about the same number; but with one seed in a hole, the lowest number of stalks was sixteen, and the highest twenty-two. I planted only about half an acre as a trial, and when I left home a few days since, it looked as much like eight quarters (sixty-four bushels) to the acre as any I have seen. The ears are something enormous. I would certainly recommend every farmer to make his own experiments, for if it succeeds, it will prove a great economy of seed; and drills to distribute it fairly are to be had."

Truly one of Hallett's wheat ears might displace the old cornucopia in that picture of happy abundance so familiar to old and young. Here are twenty ears from one seed, containing probably a thousand grains. The increase of a thousand-fold, or half that ratio, is prodigious, having nothing to equal it in the vegetable world that we know of. If one bushel of seed wheat could be so distributed by a drill as to produce 500 or 250 bushels at the harvest, certainly the staff of life would be greatly cheapened to the millions who lean upon it alone for subsistence.

From Oundle I walked the next day to Stamford, a good, solid, old English town, sitting on the corners of three counties, and on three layers of history, Saxon, Dane and Norman. The first object of interest was a stone bridge over the Nen at Oundle. It is a grand structure to span such a little river. It must have cost three times as much as "The Great Bridge" over the Connecticut at Hartford; and yet the stream it crosses is a mere rivulet compared with our New England river. "The bridge with wooden piers" is a fabric of fancy to most English people. They have read of such a thing in Longfellow's poems, but hardly realise that it exists still in civilised countries. Here bridges are works of art as well as of utility, and rank next to the grand old cathedrals and parish churches for solidity and symmetry. Their stone arches are frequently turned with a grace as fine as any in St. Paul's, and their balustrades and butments often approach the domain of sculpture.

Crossing the Nen, I followed it for several miles in a northerly direction. I soon came to a rather low, level section of the road, and noticed stones placed at the side of it, at narrow intervals, for a long distance to the very foot of a village situated on a rising ground. These stones were evidently taken from some ancient edifice, for many of them bore the marks of the old cathedral or castle chisel. They were the foot-tracks of a ruined monument of dark and painful history. More than this might be said of them. They were the blood-drops of a monstrosity chased from its den and hunted down by the people, who shuddered with horror at its sanguinary record of violence and wrong. As I approached the quiet village, whose pleasant-faced houses, great and small, looked like a congregation of old and young sitting reverently around the parish church and listening to the preaching of the belfry, I saw where these stones came from. There, on that green, ridgy slope, where the lambs lay in the sun by the river, these stones, and a million more scattered hither and thither, once stood in walls high, hideous and wrathful, for half a dozen centuries and more. If the breathings of human woe, if the midnight misery of wretched, broken hearts, could have penetrated these stones, one might almost fancy that they would have sweat with human histories in the ditch where they lay, and discolored the puddles they bridged with the bitter distilment of grief centuries old. On that gentle rising from the little Nen stood Fotheringay Castle. That central depression among the soft-carpeted ridges marks the site of the donjon huge and horrid, where many a knight and lady of noble blood was pinioned or penned in darkness and hopeless duress centuries before the unfortunate Mary was born. There nearly half the sad years of her young life and beauty were prisoned. There she pined in the sickness of hope deferred, in the corroding anguish of dread uncertainty, for a space as wide as that between the baptismal font and presentation at Elizabeth's court. There she laid her white neck upon the block. There fell the broad axe of Elizabeth's envy, fear and hate. There fell the fair-haired head that once gilded a crown and wore all the glory of regal courts—still beautiful in the setting light of farewell thoughts.

It may be truly said of Fotheringay Castle, that not one stone is left upon another to mark its foundations. Not Fleet-street Prison, nor the Bastille itself, went out under a heavier weight of popular odium. Although public sentiment, as well as the personal taste and interest of their proprietors, has favored the preservation of the ruins of old castles and abbeys in Great Britain, Fotheringay bore, branded deep in its forehead, the mark of Cain, and every man's hand, of the last generation, seemed to have been turned against it. It has not only been demolished, but the debris have been scattered far and wide, and devoted to uses which they scarcely honor. You will see the well-faced stones for miles around, in garden walls, pavements, cottage hearths and chimneys, in stables and cow-houses. In Oundle, the principal hotel, a large castellated building, shows its whole front built of them.

The great lion of Stamford is the Burghley House, the palace of the Marquis of Exeter. It may be called so without exaggeration of its magnificence as a building or of the extent and grandeur of its surroundings. The edifice itself would cut up into nearly half a dozen "White Houses," such as we install our American Presidents in at Washington. Certainly, in any point of view, it is large and splendid enough for the residence of an emperor and his suite. Its towers, turrets and spires present a picturesque grove of architecture of different ages, and its windows, it is said, equal in number all the days of the year. It was not open to the public the day I was in Stamford, so I could only walk around it and estimate its interior by its external grandeur.

But there was an outside world of architecture in the park of sublimer features to me than even the great palace itself, with all its ornate and elaborate sculpture. It was the architecture of the majestic elms and oaks that stood in long ranks and folded their hands, high up in the blue sky, above the finely-gravelled walks that radiated outward in different directions. They all wore the angles and arches of the Gothic order and the imperial belt of several centuries. I walked down one long avenue and counted them on either side. There were not sixty on both; yet their green and graceful roofage reached a full third of a mile. Not sixty to pillar and turn such an arch as that! I sat down on a seat at the end to think of it. There was a morning service going on in this Cathedral of Nature. The dew-moistened, foliated arches so lofty, so interwebbed with wavy, waky spangles of sky, were all set to the music of the anthem. "The street musicians of the heavenly city" were singing one of its happiest hymns out of their mellow throats. The long and lofty orchestra was full of them. Their twittering treble shook the leaves with its breath, as it filtered down and flooded the temple below. Beautiful is this building of God! Beautiful and blessed are these morning singing-birds of His praise! Amen!

But do not go yet. No; I will not. Here is the only book I carry with me on this walk—a Hebrew Psalter, stowed away in my knapsack. I will open it here and now, and the first words my eye lights upon shall be a text for a few thoughts on this scene and scenery. And here they are,—seemingly not apposite to this line of reflection, yet running parallel to it very closely:


The best English that can be given of these words we have in our translation: "Blessed is he who, passing through the valley of Baca, maketh it a well." Why so? On what ground? If a man had settled down in that valley for life, there would have been no merit in his making it a well. It might, in that case, have been an act of lean-hearted selfishness on his part. Further than this, a man might have done it who could have had the heart to wall it in from the reach of thirsty travellers. No such man was meant in the blessing; nor any man resident in or near the valley. It was he who was "passing through" it, and who stopped, not to search for a dribbling vein of water to satisfy his own momentary thirst, but to make a well, broad and deep, after the oriental circumference, at which all future travellers that way might drink with gladness. That was the man on whom the blessing rested as a condition, not as a wish. Look at the word, and get the right meaning of it. It is [HEBREW WORD], not [HEBREW WORD]; it is a blessedness, not a benediction. It means a permanent reality of happiness, like that of Obededom, not a cheap "I thank you!" or "the Lord bless you!" from here and there a man or woman who appreciates the benefaction.

And he deserves the same who, "passing through" the short years of man's life here on earth, plants trees like the living, lofty columns of this long cathedral aisle. How unselfish and generous is this gift to coming generations! How inestimable in its value and surpassing the worth of wealth!—surpassing the measurement of gold and silver! From my seat here, I look up to the magnificent frontage of that baronial palace. I see its towers, turrets and minarets; its grand and sculptured gateways and portals through this long, leaf-arched aisle. Not forty, but nearer four hundred years, doubtless, was that pile in building. Architecture of the pre- Norman period, and of all subsequent or cognate orders, diversifies the tastes and shapings of the structure. Suppose the whole should take fire to-night and burn to the ground. The wealth of the owner could command genius, skill and labor enough to rebuild it in three years, perhaps in one. The Czar of all the Russias did as large a thing once as this last, in the reconstruction of a palace. Perhaps the building is insured for its positive value, and the insurance money would erect a better one. But lift an axe upon that tall centurion of these templed elms. Cut through the closely-grained rings that register each succeeding year of two centuries. Hear the peculiar sounding of the heart-strokes, when the lofty, well-poised structure is balancing itself, and quivering through every fibre and leaf and twig on the few unsevered tendons that have not yet felt the keen edge of the woodman's steel. See the first leaning it cannot recover. Hear the first cracking of the central vertebra; then the mournful, moaning whir in the air; then the tremendous crash upon the green earth; the vibration of the mighty trunk on the ground, like the writhing and tremor of an ox struck by the butcher's axe; the rebound into the air of dismembered branches; the frightened flight of leaves and dust, and all the other distractions of that hour of death and destruction. Look upon that ruin! The wealth, genius and labor that could build a hundred Windsor Castles, and rebuild all the cathedrals of England in a decade, could not rebuild in two centuries that elm to the life and stature you levelled to the dust in two hours.

Put, then, the man who plants trees for posterity with him who, "passing through the valley of Baca, maketh it a well." Put him under the same blessing of his kind, for he deserves it. He gives them the richest earthly gift that a man can give to a coming generation. In a practical sense, he gives them time. He gives them a whole century, as an extra. If they would pay a gold sovereign for every solid inch of oak, they could not hire one built to the stature of one of these trees in less than two centuries' time, though they dug about it and nursed it as the man did the vine in Scripture. Blessed be the builders of these living temples of Nature! Blessed be the man, rich or poor, old or young, especially the old, who sets his heart and hand to this cheap but sublime and priceless architecture.

Let connoisseurs who have seen Memphis, Nineveh, Athens, Rome, or any or all of the great cities of the East, ancient or modern, come and sit here, and look at this lofty corridor, and mark the orders and graces of its architecture. What did the Ptolemies, their predecessors or successors in Egypt, or sovereigns of Chaldaic names, in Assyria, or ambitious builders in the ages of Pericles or Augustus, in Greece or Rome? Their structures were the wonders of the world. Mighty men they were, whose will was law, whose subjects worked it out to its wildest impulse without a murmur or a reward. But who built this sixty-columned temple, and bent these lofty arches? Two or three centuries ago, two men in coarse garb, and, it may be, in wooden shoes, came here with a donkey, bearing on its back a bundle of little elms, each of a finger's girth. They came with the rude pick and spade of that time; and, in the first six working hours of the day, they dug thirty holes on this side of the aisle, and planted in them half the tiny trees of their bundle. They then sat down at noon to their bread and cheese and, most likely, a mug of ale, and talked of small, home matters, just as if they were dibbling in a small patch of wheat or potatoes. They then went to work again and planted the other row; and, as the sun was going down, they straightened their backs, and, with hands stayed upon their hips, looked up and down the two lines and thought they would pass muster and please the master. Then they shouldered their brightened tools and went home to their low, dark cottages, discussing the prices of bread, beer and bacon, and whether the likes of them could manage to keep a pig and make a little meat in the year for themselves.

That is the story of this most magnificent structure to which you look up with such admiration. Those two men in smock frocks, each with a pocket full of bread and cheese, were the Michael Angelos of this lofty St. Peter's. That donkey, with its worn panniers, was the only witness and helper of their work. And it was the work of a day! They may have been paid two English shillings for it. The little trees may have cost two shillings more, if taken from another estate. The donkey's day was worth sixpence. O, wooden-shoed Ptolemies! what a day's work was that for the world! They thought nothing of it—nothing more than they would of transplanting sixty cabbages. They most likely did the same thing the next day, and for most of the days of that year, and of the next year, until all these undulating acres were planted with trees of every kind that could grow in these latitudes. How cheap, but priceless, is the gift of such trees to mankind! What a wealth, what a glory of them can even a poor, laboring man give to a coming generation! They are the most generous crops ever sown by human hands. All others the sower reaps and garners into his own personal enjoyment; but this yields its best harvest to those who come after him. This is a seeding for posterity. From this well of Baca shall they draw the cooling luxury of the gift when the hands that made it shall have gone to dust.

And this is a good place and time to think of home—of what we begin to hear called by her younger children, Old New England. Trees with us have passed through the two periods specified by Solomon—"a time to plant and a time to pluck up." The last came first and lasted for a century. Trees were the natural enemies to the first settlers, and ranked in their estimation with the wild Indians, wolves and bears. It was their first, great business to cut them down, both great and small. Forests fell before the woodman's axe. It made clean work, and seldom spared an oak or an elm. But, at the end of a century, the people relented and felt their mistake. Then commenced "the time to plant;" first in and around cities like Boston, Hartford, and New Haven, then about villages and private homesteads. Tree-planting for use and ornament marks and measures the footsteps of our civilization. The present generation is reaping a full reward of this gift to the next. Every village now is coming to be embowered in this green legacy to the future; like a young mother decorating a Christmas-tree for her children. Towns two hundred years old are taking the names of this diversified architecture, and they glory in the title. New Haven, with a college second to none on the American Continent, loves to be called "The Elm City," before any other name. This generous and elevating taste is making its way from ocean to ocean, even marking the sites of towns and villages before they are built. I believe there is an act of the Connecticut Legislature now in force, which allows every farmer a certain sum of money for every tree he plants along the public roadside of his fields. The object of this is to line all the highways of the State with ornamental trees, so that each shall be a well-shaded avenue. What a gift to another generation that simple act is intended to make! What a world of wonder and delight will our little State be to European travellers and tourists of the next century, if this measure shall be carried out! If a few miles of such avenues as Burghley Park and Chatsworth present, command such admiration, what sentiments would a continuous avenue of trees of equal size from Hartford to New Haven inspire!

While on this line of reflection, I will mention a case of monumental tree-planting in New England, not very widely known there. A small town, in the heart of Massachusetts, was stirred to the liveliest emotion, with all the rest in her borders, by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Different communities expressed their sense of the importance of this event in different ways, most of which were noisy and excited. But the good people of this rural parish came together, and, at a happy suggestion from some one of their number, agreed to spend the day in planting trees to commemorate the momentous transaction. They forthwith set to work, young and old, and planted first a double row on each side of the walk from the main road up "The Green" to their church door; then a row on each side of the public highway passing through the village, for nearly a mile in each direction. There was a blessed day's work for them, their children and children's children. Every hand that wielded a spade, or held up a treelet until its roots were covered with earth, has long since lost its cunning; but the tall, green monuments they erected to the memory of the most momentous day in American history, stand in unbroken ranks, the glory of the village.

Although America will never equal England, probably, in compact and picturesque "plantations," or "woods," covering hundreds of acres, all planted by hand, our shade-trees will outnumber hers, and surpass them in picturesque distribution and arrangement, when our popular programme is fully carried out. In two or three important particulars, we have a considerable advantage over this country in respect to this tasteful embellishment. In the first place, all the farmers in America own the lands they cultivate, and, on an average, two sides of every farm front upon a public road. Two or three days' work suffices for planting a row of trees the whole length of this frontage, or the roadside of the farmer's fence or wall. This is being done more and more extensively from year to year, generally under the influence of public taste and custom, and sometimes under the stimulus of governmental compensation, as in Connecticut. Thus, in the life of the present generation, all our main roads and cross- roads may become arched and shaded avenues, giving the whole landscape of the country an aspect which no other land will present.

Then we have another great advantage which England can never attain until she learns how to consume her coal smoke. Our wood and anthracite fires make no smoke to retard the growth or blacken the foliage of our trees. Thus we may have them in standing armies, tall and green, lining the streets, and overtopping the houses of our largest cities; filtering with their wholesome leafage the air breathed by the people. New Haven and Cleveland are good specimens of beautifully-shaded towns.

There is a third circumstance in our favor as yet, and of no little value. The grand old English oak and elm are magnificent trees, in park or hedge-row here. The horse-chestnut, lime, beech and ash grow to a size that you will not see in America. The Spanish chestnut, a larger and coarser tree than our American, reaches an enormous girth and spread. The pines, larches and firs abound. Then there are tree-hunters exploring all the continents, and bringing new species from Japan and other antipodean countries. But as yet, our maples have never been introduced; and without these the tree-world of any country must ever lack a beautiful feature, both in spring, summer and autumn, especially in the latter. Our autumnal scenery without the maple, would be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out; or like a royal court without a queen. Few Americans, even loudest in its praise, realise how much of the glory of our Indian summer landscape is shed upon it by this single tree. At all the Flower Shows I have seen in England and France, I have never beheld a bouquet so glorious and beautiful as a little islet in a small pellucid lake in Maine, filled to the brim, and rounded up like a full-blown rose, with firs, larches, white birches and soft maples, with a little sprinkling of the sumach. An early frost had touched the group with every tint of the rainbow, and there it stood in the ruddy glow of the Indian summer, looking at its face in the liquid mirror that smiled, still as glass, under its feet.

I was much pleased to notice what honor was put upon one of our humble and despised trees in Burghley House park, as in the grounds of other noblemen. There was not one that spread such delicate and graceful tresses on the breeze as our White Birch; not one that fanned it with such a gentle, musical flutter of silver-lined leaves; not one that wore a bodice of such virgin white from head to foot, or that showed such long, tapering fingers against the sky. I was glad to see such justice done to a tree in the noblest parks in England, which with us has been treated with such disdain and contumely. When I saw it here in such glory and honor, and thought how, notwithstanding its Caucasian complexion, it is regarded as a nuisance in our woods, meadows and pastures, so that any man who owns, or can borrow an axe, may cut it down without leave or license wherever he finds it—when I saw this disparity in its status in the two Englands, I resolved to plead its cause in my own with new zeal and fidelity.



From Stamford to Oakham was an afternoon walk which I greatly enjoyed. This was the first week of harvest, and the first of August. How wonderfully the seasons are localised and subdivided. How diversified is the economy of light and heat! That field of wheat, thick, tall and ripe for the sickle, was green and apparently growing through all the months of last winter. What a phenomenon it would have been, on the first of February last, to a New England farmer, suddenly transported from his snow-buried hills to the view of this landscape the same day! Not a spire of grass or grain was alive when he left his own homestead. All was cold and dead. The very earth was frozen to the solidity and sound of granite. It was a relief to his eye to see the snow fall upon the scene and hide it two feet deep for months. He looks upon this, then upon the one he left behind. This looks full of luxuriant life, as green as his in May. It has three months' start of his dead and buried crop. He walks across it; his shoes sink almost to the instep in the soft soil. He sees birds hopping about in it without overcoats. Surely, he says to himself, this is a favored land. Here it lies on the latitudes of Labrador, and yet its midwinter fields are as green as ours in the last month of Spring. At this rate the farmers here must harvest their wheat before the ears of mine are formed. But he counts without Nature. The American sun overtakes and distances the English by a full month. Here is the compensation for six consecutive months in which the New England farmer must house his plough and not turn a furrow.

Doubtless, as much light and heat brighten and warm one country as the other in the aggregate of a year. But there is a great difference in the economy of distribution. In England, the sun spreads its warmth more evenly over the four seasons of the year. What it withholds from Summer it gives to Winter, and makes it wear the face of Spring through its shortest and coldest days. But then Spring loses a little from this equalising dispensation. It is not the resurrection from death and the grave as it is in America. Children are not waiting here at the sepulchre of the season, as with us, watching and listening for its little Bluebird angel to warble from the first budding tree top, "It is risen!" They do not come running home with happy eyes, dancing for joy, and shouting through the half open door, "O, mother, Spring has come! We've heard the Bluebird! Hurrah! Spring has come. We saw the Phebee on the top of the saw-mill!" Here Spring makes no sensation; takes no sudden leap into the seat of Winter, but comes in gently, like the law of primogeniture or the British Constitution. It is slow and decorous in its movements. It is conservative, treats its predecessor with much deference, and makes no sudden and radical changes in the face of things. It comes in with no Lord Mayor's Day, and blows no trumpets, and bends no triumphal arches to grace its entree. Few new voices in the tree-tops hail its advent. No choirs of tree-toads fiddle in the fens. No congregation of frogs at twilight gather to the green edges of the unfettered pond to sing their Old Hundred, led by venerable Signor Cronker, in his bright, buskin doublet, mounted on a floating stump, and beating time with a bulrush. No Shad-spirits with invisible wings, perform their undulating vespers in the heavens, to let the fishermen know that it is time to look to their nets. Even the hens of the farm-yard cackle with no new tone of hope and animation at the birth of the English Spring. The fact is, it is a baby three months old when it is baptised. It is really born at Christmas instead of Easter, and makes no more stir in the family circle of the seasons than any familiar face would at a farmer's table.

In a utilitarian point of view, it is certainly an immense advantage to all classes in this country, that Nature has tempered her climates to it in this kindly way. I will not run off upon that line of reflection here, but will make it the subject of a few thoughts somewhere this side of John O'Groat's. But what England gains over us in the practical, she loses in the poetical, in this economy of the seasons. Her Spring does not thrill like a sudden revelation, as with us. It does not come out like the new moon, hanging its delicate silver crescent in the western pathway of the setting sun, which everybody tries to see first over the right shoulder, for the very luck of the coincidence. Still, both countries should be contented and happy under this dispensation of Nature. The balance is very satisfactory, and well suited to the character and habits of the two peoples. The Americans are more radical and sensational than the English; more given to sudden changes and stirring events. Sterne generally gets the credit of saying that pretty thought first, "Providence tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." A French writer puts it the other way, and more practically: "Providence tempers the wool of the lamb to the wind." This is far better and more natural. But it may be truly said that Providence tempers the seasons to the temperaments and customs of the two nations.

Just before reaching Oakham, I passed a grand mansion, standing far back from the turnpike road, on a commanding eminence, flanked with extensive plantations. The wide avenue leading to it looked a full mile in length. Lawns and lakes, which mirrored the trees with equal distinctness, suffused the landscape of the park like evening smiles of Nature. It was indeed a goodly heritage for one man; and he only mounted a plain Mr. to his name, although I learned that he could count his farms by the dozen. I was told that the annual dinner given to his tenant farmers came off the previous day at the inn where I lodged. A sumptuous banquet was provided for them, presided over by the steward of the estate; as the great Mr. did not honor the plebeian company with his presence. This is a feature of the structure of English society which the best read American would not be likely to recognise without travelling somewhat extensively in the country. The British Nobility, the great, world- renowned Middle Class, and the poor laboring population, constitute the three great divisions of the people and include them all in his mind. He is apt to leave out of count the Gentry, the great untitled MISTERS, who come in between the nobility and middle-men, and constitute the connecting link between them. "The fine old English gentleman, all of the olden time," is supposed to belong to this class. They make up most of "the old county families," of which you hear more than you read. They are generally large landholders, owning from twenty to one hundred farms. They live in grand old mansions, surrounded with liveried servants, and inspire a mild awe and respectful admiration, not only in the common country people, but in the minds of persons in whom an American would not look for such homage to untitled rank. They hunt with horses and dogs over the grounds of their tenant farmers, and the latter often act as game-beaters for them at their "shootings." When one of them owns a whole village, church and all, he is generally called "the Squire," but most of them are squired without the definite article. They still boast of as good specimens of "the fine old English gentleman" as the country can show; and I am inclined to think it is not an unfounded pretension, although I have not yet come in contact with many of the class.

One of this county squirocracy I know personally and well,—and other Americans know him as well as myself,—who, though living in a palace of his own, once occupied by an exiled French sovereign, is just as simple and honest as a child in every feature of his disposition and deportment. Every year he has a Festival in his park, lasting two or three days. It is a kind of out-door Parliament and a Greenwich Fair combined, as it would seem at first sight to an incidental spectator. I do not believe anything in the rest of the wide world could equal this gathering, for many peculiar features of enjoyment. It is made up of both sexes and all ages and conditions; especially of the laboring classes. They come out strong on these occasions. The round and red faced boys and girls of villages and hamlets for a great distance around look forward to this annual frolic with exhilarating expectation. Never was romping and racing and the amorous forfeit plays of the ring got up under more favorable auspices, or with more pleasant surroundings. It would do any man's heart good, who was ever a genuine boy, to see the venerable squire and his lady presiding over a race between competing couples of ploughmens' boys, from ten to fifteen years of age, running their rounds in the park, bare-footed, bare-headed, with faces as round and red as a ripe pumpkin, and hair of the same color whipping the air as they neck-and-neck it in the middle of the heat. When the winners of the prizes receive their rewards at his hands, his kind words and the radiant benevolence of his face they value more than the conquest and the coins they win.

Then there are intellectual entertainments and deliberative proceedings of grave moment arranged for the elder portion of the great congregation. While groups of blushing lads and lasses are hunting the handkerchief in the hustle and tussle of the ring under the great, solemn elms, a scene may be witnessed on the lawn nearer the mansion that ought to have been painted long ago. Two or three double-horse wagons are ranged end to end in the shade, and planks are placed along from one end to the other, making a continuous seat for a score or two of orators. In front of this dozen-wheeled tribune rows of seats, capable of holding several hundred persons, are arranged within hearing distance. When these are filled and surrounded by a standing wall of men and women, three or four deep, and when the orators of the day ascend over the wheels to the long wagon-seat, you have a scene and an assembly the like of which you find nowhere else in Christendom. No Saxon parliament of the Heptarchy could "hold a candle to it." Never, in any age or country of free speech, did individual ideas, idiosyncrasies, and liberty of conscience have freer scope and play. Never did all the isms of philanthropy, politics, or of social and moral reform generally have such a harmonious trysting time of it. Never was there a platform erected for discussing things local and general so catholic as the one now resting upon the wheels of those farm wagons. Every year the bland and venerable host succeeds in widening the area of debate. I was invited to be present at the Festival this year, but was too far on the road to John O'Groat's to participate in a pleasure I have often enjoyed. But I read his resume of the year's doings, aspects and prospects from Japan to Hudson's Bay with lively interest and valuable instruction. He seldom presides himself as chairman, but leaves that post of honor to be filled, if possible, by the citizen of some foreign country, if he can speak English tolerably. This gives a more cosmopolitan aspect to the assembly. But he himself always makes what in Parliament would be called "a financial statement," without the reference to money matters. He sums up the significance of all the great events of the year, bearing upon human progress in general, and upon each specific enterprise in particular. With palatial mansions, parks, and farms great and small, scattered through several counties, he is the greatest radical in England. He distances the Chartists altogether in his programme, and adds several new points to their political creed. He not only advocates manhood suffrage, but womanhood suffrage, and woman-seats in Parliament. Then he is a great friend of a reform which the Chartists grievously overlook, and which would make thousands of them voters if they would adopt it. That is, Total Abstinence from Tobacco, as well as from Ardent Spirits. Thus, no report of modern times equals the good Squire's summing-up, which he gives on these occasions, from the great farm-wagon tribune, to the multitudinous and motley congregation assembled under his park trees. This year it was unusually rich and piquant, from the expanded area of events and aspects. In presenting these, as bearing upon the causes of Temperance, Peace, Anti-War, Anti- Slavery, Anti-Tobacco, Anti-Capital Punishment, Anti-Church-Rates, Free Trade, Woman's Rights, Parliamentary Reform, Social Reform, Scientific Progress, Discovery of the Sources of the Nile, and other important movements, he was necessarily obliged to be somewhat discursive. But he generalised with much ease and perspicuity, and conducted the thread of his discourse, like a rivulet of light, through the histories of the year; transporting the mind of his audience from doings in Japan to those in America, from Poland to Mexico, and through stirring regions of Geography, Politics, Philanthropy, Social Science and Economy, by gentle and interesting transitions. This annual statement is very valuable and instructive, and should have a wider publicity than it usually obtains.

When "the fine old English gentleman all of the olden time" has concluded his resume of the year's progress, and the prospects it leaves to the one incoming, the orators of the different causes which he has thus reported, arise one after the other, and the bright air and the green foliage of the over-spreading trees, as well as the listening multitude below are stirred with fervid speeches, sometimes interspersed with "music from the band." The Festival is wound up by a banquet in the hall, given by the munificent host to a large number of guests, representing the various good movements advocated from the platform described. Many Americans have spoken from that rostrum, and sat at that banquet table in years gone by, and they will attest to the correctness of these slight delineations of the character of the host and of the annual festival that will perpetuate his name in long and pleasant remembrance.

Oakham is a goodly and pleasant town, the chief and capital of Rutlandshire. It has the ruins of an old castle in its midst, and several interesting antiquities and customs. It, too, has its unique speciality or prerogative. I was told that every person of title driving through the town, or coming to reside within the jurisdiction of its bye-laws, must leave his card to the authorities in the shape of a veritable horse-shoe. It is said that the walls of the old town hall are hung with these iron souvenirs of distinguished visits; thus constituting a museum that would be instructive to a farrier or blacksmith, as well as to the antiquarian.

From Oakham I walked to Melton Mowbray, a cleanly, good-looking town in Leicestershire, situated on the little river Eye. One cannot say exactly in regard to Rutlandshire what an Englishman once said to the authorities of a pigmy Italian duchy, who ordered him to leave it in twenty-four hours. "I only require fifteen minutes," said cousin John, with a look and tone which Jonathan could not imitate. This rural county is to the shire-family of England what Rhode Island is to the American family of States—the smallest, but not least, in several happy characteristics.

I spent a quiet Sabbath in Melton Mowbray; attended divine service in the old parish church and listened to two extemporaneous sermons full of simple and earnest teaching, and delivered in a conversational tone of voice. Here, too, the parish church was seated in the midst of the great congregation which had long ceased to listen to the call of its Sabbath bells. It was a beautiful and touching arrangement of the olden time to erect the House of Prayer in the centre of "God's Acre," that the shadow of its belfry and the Sabbath voice of its silvery bells might float for centuries over the family circles lying side by side in their long homes around the sanctuary. There was a good and tender thought in making up this sabbath society of the living and the dead; in planting the narrow pathway between the two Sions with the white milestones of generations that had travelled it in ages gone, leaving here and there words of faith, hope and admonition to those following in their footsteps. It is one of the contingencies of "higher civilization" that this social economy of the churchyard, that linked present and past generations in such touching and instructive companionship, has been suspended and annulled.

Melton Mowbray has also a very respectable individuality. It is a great centre for the scarlet-coated Nimrods who scale hedges and ditches, in well-mounted squadrons, after a fox preserved at great expense and care to become the victim of their valor. But this is a small and frivolous distinction compared with its celebrated manufacture of pork-pies. It bids fair to become as famous for them as Banbury is for buns. I visited the principal establishment for providing the travelling and picnicking world with these very substantial and palatable portables. I went under the impulse of that uneasy, suspicious curiosity to peer into the forbidden mysteries of the kitchen which generally brings no satisfaction when gratified, and which often admonishes a man not only to eat what is set before him without any questions for conscience sake, but also for the sake of the more delicate and exacting sensibilities of the stomach. I must confess my first visit to this, the greatest pork- pie factory in the world, savored a little of the anxiety to know the worst, instead of the best, in regard to the solid materials and lighter ingredients which entered into the composition of these suspiciously cheap luxuries. There were points also connected with the process of their elaboration which had given me an undefinable uneasiness in the refreshment rooms of a hundred railway stations. I was determined to settle these moot points once for all. So I entered the establishment with an eye of as keen a speculation as an exciseman's searching a building for illicit distillery, and I came out of it a more charitable and contented man. All was above board, fair and clean. The meat was fresh and good. The flour was fine and sweet; the butter and lard would grace the neatest housewife's larder; the forms on which the pies were moulded were as pure as spotless marble. The men and boys looked healthy and bright; their hands were smooth and clean, and their aprons white as snow. Not one of them smoked or took snuff at his work. I saw every process and implement employed in the construction of these pies for the market; the great tubs of pepper and spice, the huge ovens, the cooling racks, the packing room; in a word, every department and feature of the establishment. And the best thing that I can say of it is this: that I shall eat with better satisfaction and relish hereafter the pies bearing the brand of Evans, of Melton Mowbray, than I ever did before. The famous Stilton cheese is another speciality of this quiet and interesting town, or of its immediate neighborhood. So, putting the two articles of luxury and consumption together, it is rather ahead of Banbury with its cakes.

On Monday, August 11th, I resumed my walk northward, and passed through a very highly cultivated and interesting section. About the middle of the afternoon, I reached Broughton Hill, and looked off upon the most beautiful and magnificent landscape I have yet seen in England. It was the Belvoir Vale; and it would be worth a hundred miles' walk to see it, if that was the only way to reach it. It lay in a half-moon shape, the base line measuring apparently about twenty miles in length. As I sat upon the high wall of this valley, that overlooks it on the south, I felt that I was looking upon the most highly-finished piece of pre-Raphaelite artistry that could be found in the world,—the artistry of the plough, glorious and beautiful with the unconscious and involuntary pictures which patient human labor paints upon the canvas of Nature. Never did I see the like before. If Turner had the shaping of the ground entirely for an artistic purpose, it could not have been more happily formed for a display of agricultural pictures. What might be called the physical vista made the most perfect hemiorama I ever looked upon. The long, high, wooded ridge, including Broughton Hill, eclipsed, as it were, just half the disk of a circle twenty miles in diameter, leaving the other half in all the glow and glory that Nature and that great blind painter, Agricultural Industry, could give to it. The valley with its foot against this mountainous ridge, put out its right arm and enfolded to its bosom a little, beautiful world of its own of about fifty miles girth. In this embrace were included hundreds of softly-rounded hills, with their intervening valleys, villages, hamlets, church spires and towers, plantations, groves, copses and hedge-row trees, grouped by sheer accident as picturesquely as Turner himself could have arranged them. The elevation of the ridge on which I sat softened down all these distant hills, so that they looked only like little undulating risings by which the valley gently ascended to the blue rim of the horizon on the north.

It was an excellent standpoint on which to balance Nature and Human Industry; to estimate their separate and joint work upon that vast landscape. A few centuries ago, perhaps about the time that the Mayflower sighted Plymouth Rock, this valley, now so indescribably beautiful, was almost in the state of nature. Wolves and wild boars may have been prowling about in the woods and tangled thickets that covered this ridge back for several leagues. Bushes, bogs and briers, and coarse prairie grass roughened the bottom of this valley; matted heather, furze, broom and clumps of shrubby trees, all those hills and uplands arising in the background to the northward horizon. This declining sun, and the moon and stars that will soon follow in the pathway of its chariot, like a liveried cortege, shone upon that scene with all the light they will give this day and night. The rain and dew, and all the genial ministries of the seasons, did their unaided best to make it lovely and beautiful. The sweetest singing-birds of England came and tried to cheer its solitude with their happy voices. The summer breezes came with their softest breath, whispering through brake, bush and brier the little speeches of Nature's life. The summer bees came and filled all those heather-purpled acres with their industrial lays, and sang a merry song in the door of every wild-flower that gave them the petalled honey of its heart. All the trained and travelling industrials and all the sweet influences of Nature came and did all they could without man's help to make this great valley most delightful to the eye. But the wolves still prowled and howled; the briers grew rough and rank; the grass, coarse and thin; the heathered hills were oozy and cold in their watery beds; the clumpy, shrubby trees wore the same ragged coats of moss; and no feature of the scene mended for the better from year to year.

Then came the great Blind Painter, with his rude, iron pencils, to the help of Nature. He came with the Axe, Plough and Spade, her mightiest allies. With these he had driven wild Druidic Paganism back mile by mile from England's centre; back into her dark fastnesses. With the Axe, Spade and Plough he chased the foul beasts and barbarisms from the island. Two centuries long was he in painting this Beautiful Valley. Nature ground and mixed the colors for him all the while, for he was blind. He was poor; often cold and hungry, and his children, with blue fingers and pale, silent eyes, sometimes asked for bread in winter he could not give. He lived in a low cottage, small, damp and dark, and laid him down at night upon a bed of straw. He could not read; and his thoughts of human life and its hereafter were few and small. He had no taste for music, and seldom whistled at his work. He wore a coarse garment, of ghostly pattern, called a smock-frock. His hat just rounded his head to a more globular and mindless form. His shoes were as heavy as a horse's with iron nails. He had no eye nor taste for colors. If all the trees, if all the crops of grain, grass and roots on which he wrought his life long, had come out in brickdust and oil, it would have been all the same to him, if they had sold as high in the market, and beer and bread had been as cheap for the uniformity. And yet he was the Turner of this great painting. He is the artist that has made England a gallery of the finest agricultural pictures in the world. And in no country in Christendom is High Art so appreciated to such pecuniary patronage and valuation as here. In none is the genius of the Pencil so treasured, so paid, and almost worshipped as here. The public and private galleries of Britain hold pictures that would buy every acre of the island at the price current of it when Elizabeth was queen. One of Turner's landscapes would pay for a whole Highland county at its valuation when Mary held her first court at Holyrood.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse